Paul L. Caron

Monday, January 2, 2023

In Response To Boycott, U.S. News Dramatically Changes Law School Rankings Methodology. Who Are The Winners And Losers? Will Harvard Be #1?

Robert Morse (Chief Data Strategist, U.S. News) & Stephanie Salmon (Senior Vice President For Data & Information Strategy, U.S. News), Plans for Publication of the 2023-2024 Best Law Schools:

US News (2023)Dear Law School Deans,

We are writing to inform you of our plans for the publication of the 2023–2024 Best Law Schools this spring. In recent weeks, we have had conversations with more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools – well more than half of this academic leadership group. Based on those discussions, our own research and our iterative rankings review process, we are making a series of modifications in this year’s rankings that reflect those inputs and allow us to publish the best available data.

We will rank law schools in the upcoming rankings using publicly available data that law schools annually make available as required by the American Bar Association whether or not schools respond to our annual survey. For schools that do respond, we will publish more detailed profiles, enabling students to create a more comprehensive picture of their various choices. For the rankings portion, there will be some changes in how we weight certain data points, including a reduced emphasis on the peer assessment surveys of academics [25% in last year's methodology], lawyers and judges [15%], and an increased weight on outcome measures. ...

Your concerns were not identical, but did focus on a handful of areas. The main points included per student expenditures [10%], the weight of the peer assessment surveys [40%], and indicators of student debt [5%]. We also received broad feedback that the rankings should place more weight on outcomes, such as bar passage [3%] and employment outcomes [18%], thereby reflecting students’ concerns when making law school decisions. We largely agree, as demonstrated by changes made to the methodology over the years.

Some law schools that are able to offer fellowships felt they were being undervalued, thus discouraging public service careers. For the next year, we will be giving full-weight to school-funded full-time long-term fellowships where bar passage is required or where the JD degree is an advantage, and we will treat all fellowships equally. We will also be giving full-weight to those enrolled in graduate studies in the ABA employment outcomes grid.

The conversations revealed other factors, such as loan forgiveness/loan assistance repayment programs, need-based aid, and diversity and socio-economic considerations, which will require additional time and collaboration to address. In these areas we will continue to work with academic and industry leaders to develop metrics with agreed upon definitions. ...

Both of us will be at the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) meeting in San Diego from January 3-6, 2023 and welcome additional discussions.

Derek Muller (Iowa; Google Scholar), Who's Likely to Benefit From the New USNWR Law School Rankings Formula?:

So which schools might it benefiit or adversely affect the most? Let’s take a look at these three categories, and one other variable I’ll mention at the end.

1. Reduced weight to reputational survey data. ...

2. Eliminating per-student expenditures. ...

3.  Counting graduates with school-funded public-interest legal fellowships or who go on to additional graduate programs the same as they would other employed graduates. ...

4. What fills the gap. ... [T]here’s much uncertainty about how it will affect many law schools. I feel fairly confident that a handful of the schools identified above as winners in several categories, including Alabama, BYU, Georgia, and Texas A&M, will benefit significantly in the end, but one never knows for sure. It also has the potential to disrupt some of the more “entrenched” schools from their positions, as the more “legacy”-oriented factors, including spending and the echo chamber of reputational surveys, will receive less value. Law schools must increasingly face the value proposition for students (e.g., lower debt, better employment outcomes), with some other potential factors in the mix, in the years ahead.

Brian Leiter (Chicago; Google Scholar), Big Changes Coming to Rankings: has written to law school Deans announcing some significant changes, as a result of the boycott initiated by Yale.  Here are the highlights: ...

Without per capita expenditures in the mix, I would not be surprised to see Harvard come out at #1 in the Spring But the whole rank order will be shaken up quite a bit--and in no intelligible or meaningful way of course, since the whole thing will still be a stew of factors, weighted inexplicably. So the "reign of terror" will continue!

Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report to Revamp Parts of Its Law-School Ranking:

The shift in methodology may be due in part to necessity. Though U.S. News pulls much of its data from the American Bar Association and said it would rank schools whether or not they cooperated, it relies on schools to provide the spending figures and to complete peer-review surveys. ...

U.S. News said it would offer more detailed profiles of schools that do provide requested information, a potential incentive for institutions waffling over whether to participate but worried about falling off the radar of prospective students.

Several deans said in interviews with The Wall Street Journal that U.S. News would be in a tough spot if it punished schools that abstained too harshly.

“If the top 15 schools suddenly drop down to No. 50, the rankings don’t have much credibility,” said Russell Korobkin, interim dean of the law school at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Deans from four top-ranked schools who held meetings with Mr. Morse and Ms. Salmon in recent weeks said that the conversations were cordial and that the U.S. News representatives seemed open to criticism but didn’t offer solutions or acknowledge that this was all well-trodden territory.

Ilya Somin (George Mason), US News Makes Beneficial Changes to its Law School Rankings System:

Downgrading reputational surveys and abolishing points for per-student expenditures are steps in the right direction.

U.S. News coverage:


U.S. News Response to Boycott

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